Mayor Newsom, City Agencies and Advocates Celebrate Bike Plan

newsom_crowd.jpgMayor Newsom said bike lanes were part of a sustainable, 21st Century city. Photo: Matthew Roth
At a press conference this afternoon characterized by relief and jubilation, Mayor Gavin Newsom, representatives from the city agencies responsible for San Francisco's streets, and bicycle advocates celebrated the MTA's adoption of the Bike Plan and the legislation of the first 45 of the 56 priority bike-lane projects. Mayor Newsom seemed as thrilled as the bike advocates that much of the details for moving the legal process forward had been surmounted with last night's Planning Commission's certification of the Bike Plan EIR and the MTA Board's unanimous vote of approval today.

"We've delayed the inevitable and it's cost us a lot of money and time," said Mayor Newsom. "I'm just looking forward to finally moving beyond this and building some partnerships and not going back to the days where we were pointing fingers and we were divided."

Flexing his recall of statistics, Newsom proceeded to inventory some of the benefits of cycling:

Already 6% of our commuters are bicyclists; that's more than any other city in America. We know when we add a bike lane we see about a 50% increase in use. Fifty-four percent of  greenhouse gases are transportation related, the tailpipes of these cars you see behind you. Even those of us who are not bicyclists will get the benefit of this because of the air we breathe and the benefit of the example that we will leave to our children to get more physically active as well and to look at bicycling not just as recreating but as a pragmatic way of getting to and from places of work, to and from places we need to go.

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum said she had never been more proud than today to have her job, representing over 10,000 members and more than 100,000 regular city cyclists.

Light_Court.jpgCity Hall South Light Court. Photo: SF Bike
"I believe yesterday's debate used to be framed in terms of bicyclists versus drivers, two wheels versus four," said Shahum. "We are over that. Today's debate is about how do we do everything we can for the environment, for public health, for accessibility, for affordability for all San Franciscans. Bicycling plays a vital role in that and today you saw your city leaders choose that path, choose sustainability."

The SFBC had organized more than 200 people to voice support for the Bike Plan at the MTA Board Meeting, so many in fact that the City Hall South Light Court was used as overflow while people waited in line to get into the MTA Board chambers upstairs in Room 400.

"This morning we had 200 people lined up here to speak, 200 people supporting this Bike Plan and giving public comment, taking the morning off from work," said Shahum. "We had over 150 businesses and community organizations write letters of support for the bike plan and literally thousands of people take time out to send letters in to support the Bike Plan. It is a new day."

After last night's Planning Commission vote to certify the EIR, a mandatory 20-day appeals process was triggered and must be finished before the Board of Supervisors can schedule a hearing on the bike plan, which they can do no sooner than ten days after the appeals process has finished. By all accounts, the earliest anyone assumes the bike injunction can be lifted is mid-August, though it could be as late as September.

Mayor Newsom promised that even if it takes until September to lift the injunction, the city was committed to moving expeditiously.

boy_small.jpgA boy waits for his dad to check in to testify. Photo: SF Bike
"I think after August or September, you are going to see an extraordinary amount accomplished in an extraordinarily short time," he said. "We actually have the list, literally in the first couple weeks, the first couple months of everything that we will accomplish. This is a very prescriptive effort, we're not just asserting that we will get something done, we now have the timelines and the details to get there."

When it came time for Q&A, the very first question asked by a network television anchor was whether or not Newsom thought it ironic that with all the new bike lanes approved today, Critical Mass was still "running amok" this evening. Mayor Newsom chastised the reporter for her question, "Why do you have to ruin such a wonderful press conference?" 

Then he added, "Critical Mass has become part of the fabric of our city. We had a hiccup a couple years ago where some people got into an altercation--that can't happen, that's unacceptable. But I think we've successfully moved past that in the last few years and I'm hopeful that we can continue in that spirit, to keep people safe to allow for Critical Mass to move forward with people being sensitive to other people's needs. I'm hoping everyone is responsible, respectful, and safe tonight and every Friday at the end of every month."

Looking forward, Mayor Newsom made clear that any city that pretended to call itself green, any city that hoped to fulfill its Transit-First mission, had to embrace the bicycle.

"I do believe at the end of the day, in a world that we're living in, it's competitive cities that have attributes of sustainability that will be the most vibrant and successful cities into the future. So this is part of being a world-class city."